There’s a billboard up ahead, a roadside sign full of language and imagery. You become emotionally distracted, and guess what happens next?

One researcher has discovered that language used on billboards can provoke an emotional response that affects our driving abilities. And whether the words have a negative or positive connotation seems to determine whether the attention wanders or the foot gets heavier.

Psychologist Michelle Chan devised an experiment using a driving simulator in which participants drove through one of three scenarios that exposed them to 20 billboards on the course. Each billboard contained blocks of words that were positive, negative or neutral in nature.

Subjects who viewed the negative words decreased their speed when passing the signs and tended to drift and veer from their lane. Conversely, drivers viewing the words with positive connotations sped up when passing the signs.

(A smart traffic cop would park his motorcycle behind a "happy" billboard in order to catch speeders).

Billboards vary according to location. Chan says, "When you’re driving in Las Vegas, you’ll see a bunch of profane billboards. There are also some really graphic anti-smoking billboards around."

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